The National Broadband Network (NBN) seems to be much more popular in technology circles than in other sectors, but do CIOs think it will benefit their businesses?
When Labor came into power in 2007, it brought with it a policy that would see it spend AU$4.7 billion on rolling out a national fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network.
In 2009, the scope of the roll-out changed when the government said it would now be rolling out fibre to the home (FttH), and that it would do so with a public company it created, not by writing out the work to a big telco like Telstra or Optus.
The Liberals have said that the policy is a waste of money, instead espousing a mix of technologies to reach the nation, and targeting subsidies to regions instead of a network that cross subsidises regional customers by charging the same price for wholesale broadband to every Australian household.
Support for the network has been polarised, with some desperately looking forward to when the network comes online while others remain vehemently opposed to the expenditure. In the technology world, the skew has seemed to be more pro than against the policy.
To test this assumption, we decided to ask the members of ZDNet Australia's CIO Jury for their thoughts. The question was:
Do you think the NBN will benefit your business?
Of the first 12 CIOs who answered, seven said yes and five said no.
From the five who said no, a major concern seemed to be that the impending network has stalled investment from internet service providers (ISPs).
"While there is little doubt the provision of more bandwidth is a good thing, this is far outweighed by the short to medium pain," BUPA Aged Care CIO Paul Berryman said.
"ISPs are nervous about adding capacity to the existing networks. There will be capacity and provisioning issues before the NBN becomes widely available, as the dwindling supply of copper-based services dries up. Services are already becoming difficult to get."
David Beveridge, who acts in CIO capacity for a number of small businesses, agreed.
"It has created a really long wait for upgrades, and slowed competition. Some will have to wait up to 10 years for a connection (two years already gone), which in this business is a very long time. Meanwhile, possible competing technologies are not being invested into for fear of losing out to the NBN when it does come. "
Another problem is the lack of international capacity into the country, he said.
"It's all very well for customers to have 100 megabits to the provider, but that doesn't do you much good, unless there is content to access at that speed. Ask me again in 2021, and I'll probably be more optimistic."
Concerns from other CIOs were that it is too expensive and will become outdated, or that it won't directly deliver a benefit to companies.
"The NBN will only ever be a part of the internet infrastructure required for really enabling improvements in e-commerce. So trying to apportion benefit to the NBN is like trying to understand the value of a hot-water system in your home's plumbing ...Critical, but far from satisfying all needs," said one executive, who wished to remain anonymous.
Animal Logic's director of technical operations Xavier Desdoigts believes that his company is already well served by existing infrastructure.
"We do not interact with the public at large and our current internet requirements are fulfilled by current offerings at a reasonable cost."
The other seven CIOs who responded in the first group of 12, however, sang praises of the network.
BVN Architecture IT director Royce Michael Lee said that bandwidth limitations are a roadblock to his business, as the company has several east coast locations.
"The NBN will help us reduce our infrastructure while at the same time improve team collaboration — especially teams dispersed geographically — and help us improve our work-from-home offering. It should also support us setting up short-term points of presence for projects and joint ventures faster and more cost effectively than our current solutions allow," he said.
Hume Rural Health Alliance operations manager Chris Reeve and Debortoli CIO Bill Robertson are also looking forward to getting communications infrastructure in rural locations, but they aren't holding their breaths, because if the project goes ahead despite looming elections, it will still take a long time to roll out to competition.
"The internet infrastructure that is currently available to support our rural NSW head office is completely and utterly inadequate. So regardless of the big-picture NBN cost/benefit and government/private infrastructure debates, we would sign up to the NBN in a heartbeat," Robertson said.
David O'Hagan, CIO of the Queensland Department of Education and Training, Corporate Services Division, said that the network is crucial for education.
"A high-performing education system needs a high-performance network both fixed and mobile. Today, educational outcomes are strongly linked to geography and socio-economic factors. In the years ahead, access to affordable to high-speed broadband will be a key factor and increasingly a social equity issue," he said.
Peter Smith, group manager of information systems at Quick Service Restaurant Holdings, said that the NBN will open up a world of technology opportunities.
"Increasing the ubiquitous nature of connectivity and driving up the performance will allow more connected products to be developed and sold, and this will perpetuate into more technology-based solutions and stronger use of internet-based applications (largely SaaS), which will in turn open up more opportunities," he said.
CUA CIO David Gee also has an eye on the threats, however.
"The NBN will assist all businesses to access new customers — especially those geographically dispersed within Australia. However, this also creates a 'threat' for others to enter our market. Australia is in essence in catch-up mode to other countries like Japan and Korea, which have already made such investments."
Thank you to all of the ZDNet Australia CIO Jury participants. The CIO Jury for this question comprised:
Paul Berryman — CIO, BUPA Aged Care
David Beveridge — acting CIO of multiple SMBs
Xavier Desdoigts — director of technical operations, Animal Logic
David Gee — CIO, CUA
Daniel Johnson — head of information systems, Sydney Opera House
Royce Michael Lee — IT director, BVN Architecture
David O'Hagan — CIO, Queensland Department of Education and Training, Corporate Services Division
Chris Reeve — operations manager, Hume Rural Health Alliance
Bill Robertson — CIO, De Bortoli Wines
Peter Smith — group manager information systems, Quick Service Restaurant Holdings